Last weeks column drew a mixed reception when published online, with disagreement from one of the bigger online beer writers, who won “beer blogger of the year” recently as well as having several published books to his name, telling me to “stop worrying about what other people drink”. I also received a text message from the person I mentioned who is now the general manager of the independent distillery saying he enjoyed the writing, a person who will as often criticise my work.
Looking at other beer writers I follow online in relation to this, there is also a debate about the line between being a fan of good beer, a beer evangelist and a beer snob. Personally I would put myself on the socially healthy side of beer evangelism. Writing about this topic week in week out inevitably leads to a more than healthy interest in the topic, and a higher than average threshold for what constitutes a really good beer.
My definition of what makes a good session beer hasn’t really changed since I started writing regularly for Pubpaper 18 months ago, I still like Black Sheep, Copper Dragon and Theakstons as much I did then, the only difference now is that I “professionally” hunt out new beers when possible. I wish beers would hunt me out, but sadly they don’t, apart from my editor at the magazine, who garnished me with a rather fine case of Thwaites beer earlier in the year, which was well appreciated.
Beer is a wonderful product with such a variety of flavours and colour available across the spectrum and I attempt to try the whole range of that spectrum. Last weeks column asking why the big multinational brewers didn’t make more interesting beers within their core offerings was not worrying about what others drink, but more a call for the brewers to produce and promote more interesting products to those millions of drinkers who drink the likes of Carling, Carlsberg and Fosters as their regular beer.
If one of these companies put £7 million (the amount spent to reposition Carling) behind a more interesting sister product to their core brand and cross promoted there is no doubt it would be a quantified success purely off attachment to a proven seller. These companies have that kind of power and resources. However this is unlikely to happen in the current financial climate as companies will be, in the main, happy to consolidate behind existing brands while, where it allows, trying to push into new markets, citing Animee from Molson Coors as as an example.
The writer who disagreed with me last week said more interesting beers from the majors wouldn’t sell, with the right backing I think they would. I was sceptical when Stella launched their “Cidre” cider, a product well outside their core market and up against tough competition, but they have proved me wrong. I’m not saying it is a particularly good cider, but it was a serious departure for the company. That commitment is what would be needed for these new beers.
To use a food analogy, sticking to the current mainstream lagers is like going a lifetime without seasoning your food with onions, salt, pepper or garlic. The food will keep hunger at bay, but food like beer can be so much more, all its needs is a bit seasoning.
Now to discuss the beer snobbery and evangelism angle, I do try to evangelise good beer, I don’t deny that, but do accept that some people will stick to what they know, just as I know my wife will never like onions. If the person is receptive then I will happily talk as long as both of us remain interested, but you must be careful not to fall into being a bore. If they are not interested then we move onto another topic, however in the pubs I generally frequent there is higher than average interest in beers. To clarify, a good beer is not only a beer I like, but a beer I have tried, not been particularly keen on, but recognised that it is well made, and others may like.
It is up to people like myself, fellow enthusiasts, bodies such as CAMRA, the breweries who produce the beers and the pubs who sell the beer to promote the product to new camps, something that many real and craft ale brewers and pubs do fantastically well. The professional and amateur enthusiasts and trade bodies can only support this where it is deserved. This is something that most who fall into those camps do already very well.
So let us pray “For thou art in the pub, Thornbridge be thy name, My Summer Wine come, Thy Brewdog will be done, in the lounge room as in the bar…..”. Communal beer will follow after the service.